An Open Letter to Charles Hurt, In Defense of Christopher Nolan, Free Will and, Yes, Sean Penn

I usually enjoy and agree with opinion pieces published in The Washington Times. But here, in Charles Hurt’s “open letter” to Christopher Nolan, Sean Penn and Warner Brothers, I am convinced that the writer and I have not seen the same movie; perhaps we don’t even live in the same world.

First, how can he lump Sean Penn and Christopher Nolan together? Doesn’t he know that THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, for its part, may be the best depiction of the dangers of nihilism piggy-backing on the socialist/egalitarian movement that we’ve ever seen? At the very least, it’s a much better movie, in terms of dramatizing fundamental ideas (honesty, the importance of the alternative of live vs. death, the dangers of appeasement, the ability of the individual to achieve great things and defeat evil), than one could ever expect to be produced by this culture. (For a detailed, spoiler-filled, analysis of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, listen to my “Don’t Let It Go…Unheard” podcast from Sunday.)

And even though I am no Sean Penn fan (and, leaving aside a pesky cause-and-effect problem of blaming a movie or trailer that has not yet been screened), no film depiction of violence can be blamed for this — or any — massacre. Human beings have something called free will; this makes it possible for Hurt (not me, because I’m an atheist) to imply that people will be going to hell for depicting evil in movies. (As for me, I just judge people as they deserve and act accordingly.) Free will makes us able to identify villains as evil, to side with and be inspired by the heroes, and to act accordingly.

But I guess Hurt would rather create a society of Platonic philosopher-kings who prohibit the depiction of any evil in art, in hopes that refusing to depict evil will have the effect of eradicating it from society? No matter how good a culture is, there will always be a small minority of criminals like the man responsible for the Aurora, CO, massacre. But without great art like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, to depict the triumph of good over that evil, we can never hope to reach the day when our culture is the best that it can be. Shame on Hurt for selling humanity short like this.

UPDATE: Check out Bosch Fawstin’s piece responding to Charles Hurt, “It Was Him and Him Alone.”

UPDATE 2: In this story we learn that Holmes purchased his semi-automatic on the day he failed an oral PhD exam. In another we learn about a notebook, with elaborate plans for the massacre, that he sent a psychiatrist at his university. Good thing for Hurt that he published his smear piece before we could learn what actually might have led Holmes to do what he did.

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11 responses to “An Open Letter to Charles Hurt, In Defense of Christopher Nolan, Free Will and, Yes, Sean Penn

  1. William Miller

    I am wondering if we read the same Hurt article. He speaks of the violence in the movie, not of meaning/philosophy behind it.

    • Yes, and as I said in my post here, it is our free will (along with our conceptual faculty that identifies and interprets what we see on film), that allows us to choose the good over the evil. Your questioning whether my blog post responds to his piece is just one example. Why not just read my blog post, and then mindlessly mimic what I say?

  2. John Newnham

    Wow. I am only now reading that twisted, hate filled piece of nonsense by Charles Hurt. Amy Peikoff, your response is spot on.

  3. “You bankrolled “The Dark Knight Rises” and so many other pointlessly violent movies that infect feeble minds and bring hatred upon America.” Says the feeble mind spewing hatred. How dare he?!

    Last Friday, as news of the shooting had broken and people everywhere were talking about it, someone at work made a comment to the effect that hopefully we will not now get some kind of a TSA searching us as we go into movies. Well, this is the form that it comes in and it comes from the conservatives: some evil madman massacres innocent people, and the usual suspect that is “violence in the entartainment industry” gets the blame. As though we were subject to the “monkey see, monkey do” type of response and can not help but commit atrocities after seeing them depicted — not glorified, but just depicted — in a movie. These same people cried with indignation and horror, rightfully so, when virulent opposition to president Obama and Democrats got the blame for the shooting in Arizona. They expressed similar indignation when George Stephanopolis jumped on an early lead that suggested the shooter might have been a member of the tea party.

    Such blame throwing would be grotesquely offensive pettiness in a free society, though propagating such ideas as the lack of free will is always dangerous if left unchecked. But in the age of “there ought to be a law…!” the tripe carries with it an implicit and very real threat, and as such it is terrifying. The conservatives made that connection — or at least seemed to –after the Arizona shooting. However the sentiment expressed in this despicable Charles Hurd letter, which is by no means limited to this one instance (I heard similar admonitions expressed on the radio yesterday, and now I know where the speakers got the phrase “violent porn” and the reference to snuff films from), is proof that the conservatives are no more able to think in principle than the liberals, when blinded by a lust to force their irrational beliefs on others.

    • Yes, the blaming of guns and the blaming of violent movies comes from a similar root. And this morning it occurred to me that Bane (the villain) didn’t often in the movie choose to kill using guns anyway. So how can Hurt see Holmes as imitating Bane?

      Of course, as Bosch pointed out, Hurt probably never saw the movie, given his philosophy. He’d be too afraid that he couldn’t help but mimic its villains.

  4. Edward Cline

    I’ve just read Charles Hurt’s column. This man’s alternative career choice must have been to become a Catholic priest. Or a Lutheran minister. His column is a pure, religious conservative sermon, delivered from pulpit of a newspaper column. The vicious, irrational “moral” he lectures Nolan and Penn about is parallel to that of any Islamic imam’s or mullah’s: if we don’t show violence and mayhem, men won’t be tempted to emulate it. If women wore burkas and veils, men wouldn’t be tempted to attack them. Men, after all, goes the sermon, are just uncontrollable beasts, ruled by their passions. Volition is a chimerical attribute propounded by advocates of reason. So, Charles Nolan is guilty of having put temptation in sight of James Holmes. Of course, what Hurt neglects to mention is that the same “temptation” was put in sight of all the Aurora moviegoers, as well, and they, for some reason, didn’t go postal on each other. Hurt wouldn’t be able to explain that. Hurt’s column is a call for censorship, pure and simple.

    • “[W]hat Hurt neglects to mention is that the same “temptation” was put in sight of all the Aurora moviegoers, as well, and they, for some reason, didn’t go postal on each other. Hurt wouldn’t be able to explain that. Hurt’s column is a call for censorship, pure and simple.”

      Agreed, he’s just using this as an opportunity to call for what he wants, CO massacre or no CO massacre: censorship. Same with the left on gun control. And of course they have to get their calls in early, before we learn to much about what actually might have led Holmes to do this. Now we have news of a notebook in which he plotted his evil deeds, methodically, and we also have learned that Holmes purchased his semi-automatic on the day he failed a crucial PhD oral exam. But no, of course it was Nolan’s movie that did it.

  5. MWorrell

    Any good Christian theologian should in large part agree with you. Both the story of the Garden of Eden and Christ’s own statements make it clear that environment is not the cause of evil. It’s a factor, but the heart decides.

    • Yes, no free will, no ability to choose whether to be good or evil, would, at least in logic, mean no justification for condemning someone to hell, as Hurt would like to do to Nolan and Penn.

  6. Pingback: Condemn Scapegoating in Aftermath of Atrocities - The Objective Standard

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